You may have a number of topics that you are either interested in or that you believe are worthy of further investigation. At the initial stage, it is worth listing all of these topics and then working through them to decide which would be the most beneficial. It is recommended that you try to focus on one key topic at a time, so that your project does not become too broad and/or unmanageable.
If you are struggling to think of a focus for your research project, consider the following and see if any ideas emerge as a result:
- Is there an area of your practice that particularly interests you and that you would like to explore in more depth?
- Is there an aspect of your practice that concerns you?
- Is there an aspect of your practice that you would like to improve and or change?
- Is there a new model/approach/technique/initiative that you would like to try and evaluate?
What is my rationale for this research?
It is important to think carefully about why you are undertaking any research. What are your reasons/justifications behind researching a specific area? What do you hope to achieve by undertaking this research. Generally speaking, research is about exploration, discovery, improving practice and generating new theories. However, it is important to be clear on why you are doing this research and define what you hope will be the anticipated outcomes.
From research topic to research questions/aims
Once you have a clear idea of the topic area that you would like to focus your research on, you then need to turn your attention to formulating your research questions/aims. Again, as with the topic idea, it is worth spending some time jotting down question ideas/aims, as you will find that the more you revise the wording, the more focused your final questions/aims will become.
In developing your research questions/aims, it is useful to think through a number of practical considerations.
Consider the following:
- Participants – Who will you need to involve in your research process?
- Access - Are you going to be able to gain access to relevant resources and participants to complete this research? How readily available are these to you?
- Scope – Will the topic you have chosen to focus on provide you with sufficient scope to sustain a small-scale action research project?
- Feasibility - Given time, word and resource constraints, is what you are planning to research doable? Don’t try and cover too much ground in a short space of time. It is advisable to keep your objectives modest and your focus tight.
- Where and when? – Think about where the research will take place and what timescales you are working to. Try to be as specific as possible with your time frames as this will help to keep your project on track and keep you motivated to finish.
Complete the following:
- Make a list of all of the research topics that would be of interest to you.
- Narrow down your list of topic ideas and select one area for the purpose of this research project.
- Write a rationale statement – why this topic? What do you hope to achieve? What might the anticipated outcomes look like?
- Consider the practical considerations listed above and then work on formulating 3 or 4 research questions/aims that your project will focus on.
Suggested further reading:
Bassey, M. (1995) ‘Action research for improving educational practice’. In Halsall, R. (1998) Teacher Research and School Improvement. Buckingham: Open University Press: 94 & 95.
Koshy, V. (2005) Action Research for Improving Practice: A Practical Guide. London: Paul Chapman Publishing
Koshy, V. (2009) Action Research for Improving Practice: A Practical Guide. (2nd ed) London: Paul Chapman Publishing
O’Leary, Z. (2013) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research. (2nd ed) London: Sage
McAteer, M. (2013) Action Research in Education. London: Sage
McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2005) Action Research for Teachers. Oxford: David Fulton.
McNiff, J. (2013) Action Research: Principles and Practice. (3rd ed). Oxon: Routledge
McNiff, J. (2014) Writing and Doing Action Research. London: Sage
McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. 2011) All You Need to Know About Action Research. (2nd ed). London: Sage
Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Enquiry and Practice. London: Sage.
Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2013) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. (2nd ed). London: Sage